By Katherine Parker
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — More than a dozen University of Oklahoma College of Engineering students and professors gave up their Thanksgiving break to help build water systems in El Salvador.
For some students it was their first time out of the country or to be in South America and for other students it was their first trip with Sooners Without Borders, an engineering outreach group that partners with disadvantaged communities to build
economically sustainable engineering projects.
“Sooners Without Borders help develop internationally responsible engineering students through cultural and educational opportunities like El Salvador,” Jim Chamberlain, OU environmental engineering professor and Sooners without Borders faculty adviser, said.
While in El Salvador, the group worked on two projects: a tidal zone study to locate wells and analyze water quality and solar irrigation pump design and installation. Chamberlain said the group was able to accomplish every task on their list.
Elmira Nazar, an OU graduate student, worked on testing water for E. coli, nitrate and chlorine and measured water temperature and pH. Nazar explained that the group started by testing a community well and then branched out to test several personal wells.
“A good surprise was out of all the wells we tested only one of them was really bad and three of them had some traces of E. coli,” Nazar said. “I expected it to be much worse.”
Nazar said even though the wells were not as bad off as she expected, she still felt the work Sooners Without Borders did was helpful because they tested the community well then treated it and tested it again, so that the community could see the difference in the results.
Adam Alawwami, a petroleum engineer senior at OU, said he thought the work the group did with the irrigation system was most beneficial to the community because crop irrigation during the dry season is a prominent problem. Sooners Without Borders was able to install an eco-friendly solution by drilling a hole and putting up a tank with two solar panels.
“We did so much in five days, and the students worked really hard,” Chamberlain said of the trip’s success.
Before the trip, Chamberlain tried to prepare students with safety precautions and possible life-changing experiences since the group stayed with host families in Ciudad Romero and were immersed in the community’s way of living. Students ate with their host family, stayed in their beds (or hammocks), used outdoor latrines and took bucket showers from the well.
Chamberlain, who has been to El Salvador six times, four of which with students, said he always learns something when visiting the county and that this trip he was really impressed with how hard the host families worked.
“They had two stores out of their house, a bicycle repair shop and provided people with propane gas tanks,” he said.
Cody Rainwater, a freshman at OU, said the trip was an eye-opening culture experience.
“We have running water, refrigerated food, flushing toilets,” Rainwater said. “Really, it’s incredible all that we have here (U.S.).”
Besides reminding students all they have to be grateful for, El Salvador also made students consider whether more really is more. Alawwami, who has traveled all over the world, said the work he did in El Salvador was a positive reflection of the peoples’ attitudes.
“What I loved about the trip was the village’s lifestyle. It was so simple. Everyone had a positive attitude,” Alawwami said. “Our trip was very joyful.”
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